Artists Tackle Climate Change: An Ice Block, Future Food, and More

Untold PossibilitiesA billboard that is part of Class Action's "The Patriotism of Science and Religion" project. Photo courtesy of Class Action.

A 216-cubic-foot ice cube is coming to the City Hall Annex plaza this week. We’ll see how long it takes to melt.

The installation is part of an upcoming exhibit in the annex’s Gallery 344 that seeks to explore the topic of climate change through a variety of media and tones. “Untold Possibilities at the Last Minute,” on display from May 20 to Oct. 4, grew out of a proposal from artist Thomas Starr, who envisions markers around the city that refer to future climate change in the past tense—for example, a plaque that reads, “This street was flooded under six feet of water in 2040,” according to Lillian Hsu, director of Public Art and Exhibitions for Cambridge Arts. The markers would align with actual data generated by the city.

“Artists can sometimes communicate complex information in ways that people who are, for example, in a scientific field, can’t do. Because scientists or policy makers, they’re putting out materials that are dense websites or papers,” Hsu says. “One of the points of the exhibition is to show how artists can communicate in ways that are uniquely engaging for the public.”

Some pieces, like Starr’s, invoke more dire views of climate change. Other projects play less on anxiety, such as “FUTUREFOOD,” which offers samples of the food and drinks we might shift to as our climate changes. There will be free tastings of Japanese knotweed sorbet, kvass (a fermented drink made from rye bread), honey toffee, and honey water at the Cambridge Public Library on May 25 and June 15.

Other pieces emphasize that we can still make a difference in reducing further climate change. The floor of the gallery will be covered in a white roofing material, which Jean Wilcox suggests should replace black roofs to minimize heat absorption and the urban heat island effect. “The Patriotism of Science and Religion” uses messaging including billboards to “position climate science in terms of moral and patriotic duty,” according to the exhibit’s website.

“It is an actual issue that everybody’s dealing with that is doing climate change communicating to the public—there’s a continuum between, let’s say, unproductive despair … and denial, let’s say, or complacency at the other end,” Hsu says. “We really want people to be aware of the issue and how serious and urgent it is … but we also don’t want to scare people, because we know that fear isn’t a useful emotion for us to have in this whole effort to do something about climate change. So a number of these projects really balance that.”

An opening reception for the gallery (located at 344 Broadway) will run from 6 to 8 p.m. on May 23. The reception will include performances and “FUTUREFOOD” tastings.